Hockey: India to face Belgium in test series

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Chennai, Jan 24: Curtains roll up for India again and it's time for hockey fans to throng the astro turf stadium and egg on their heroes to 'chak de' as they did during the recent Asia Cup here, as coach Joachim Carvalho's wards begin their preparation for the qualifying tournament for 2008 Beijing Olympics with the first of the five-match Test series against Belgium here tomorrow.

''The matches are of extreme importance and beneficial to both of us for the Games in Beijing later this year,'' the new Belgium team coach Adam Cummens and Carvalho observed at a press conference at the Madras Cricket Club last night in the presence of Indian team's newly appointed technical adviser, former Australian skipper Richard Charlesworth, former India coach V Baskaran and IHF Secretary General Jothikumaran.

The five-match series, to be played under floodlights and accorded official status by the International Hockey Federation (FIH), were scheduled to be played on January 25, 28, 29, 30 and 31, January 26 being a rest day on account of India's Republic Day.

''After a hard stint of training at the SAI Bangalore, there is nothing better like an international level competition. Belgium is a top team,'' Carvalho said, adding that the test series would stand the team in good stead.

India was also fielding another junior talent Samir Baxia, who would be joining the squad along with Diwakar after the junior international competition, being played in Kuala Lumpur. Carvalho said the team would not be depending on individual displays as since the Asia Cup, the emphasis was on playing as a team. The side would not suffer by way of coordination up front in the absence of forward Prabhjot Singh, who had been the star striker for some time now.

Richard Charlesworth said only international level competition was the right way to prepare the team for major international matches like Olympic qualfiers.

''Joachim will have a difficult job on hand selecting the team for the qualifiers from his bunch of highly talented players,'' he said, complimenting the Indian squad.

''We will see some top class hockey in the test series,'' the former Aussie hockey ace observed, adding that India needs a tough competition before the Olympic qualifiers.

The second, third, fourth and the fifth Test matches would be telecast live on DD channel, Mr Jothikumaran announced


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